LITTLE COMPTON — After five years of planning and permitting, workers began the installation early last week of a new culvert under Sakonnet Point Road (Route 77), near the tip of the Point, about 200 feet from where the road ends and the ocean begins.
The $235,000 project is supported by 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state, said Hiedi Gudmundson, spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
The 24 inch concrete culvert, newly installed across and under the road, replaces an aging cast iron culvert connecting a salt marsh on the south side of the road to an emptying point at the edge of Sakonnet Harbor 124 feet to the north.
That’s not a long distance.
But since about February, 2008, says Town Council member Gary Mataronas, who lives out at the Point, town officials and residents have talked worriedly with myriad federal and state agencies about replacing the cast iron piping.
“The fear was,” he says, “that the water would breach the road and wash it out, and there’d be no access to the point. I was very concerned about there being a major storm, and the people who live here and work here and the fishermen would get cut off.”
The old piping was about 60 years old, he said. It had broken in places, and occasionally become blocked up inside with debris. Water had backed up into the salt marsh.
At one point the Rhode Island Department of Transportation tried to “jet it out” with water, Mr. Mataronas said, but the clogged material wouldn’t budge.
The cast iron pipe had collapsed. “You could see rocks in there,” he said. At the outlet end, the pipe had become clogged with sand. Attempts to shovel the sand away didn’t work for long. Mud there had become packed.
Ideally, water should wash back and forth during the tides between the harbor and the salt marsh, he said.
The north end of the culvert traverses property Mr. Mataronas owns north of the roadway.
Getting the funding for the contract, and the permits, involved conversations between engineers, Mr. Mataronas and Town Council President Robert Mushen (for the Town of Little Compton), the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Highway and Bridge Maintenance Section, the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Department of Environmental Management, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
That’s why it took five years to get going. “So many agencies, so many people involved, so much funding was needed, it was just a cumbersome process,” said Mr. Mataronas. “It’s been a long five years.”
Work is expected to be completed by May 27 say RIDOT officials, but Mr. Mataronas, who drives past the site regularly, said he thinks it will be completed ahead of time.
The concrete sections of the culvert are already in place, he said. “I’m so thrilled the project is getting done. They’re doing a fine, fine job.”